On November 8, 2016, millions of people went to bed confused. What did we miss? How did Donald Trump take the lead when all of the polls and commentary showed he would not win? People went to bed confused, and woke up stunned. No matter which side of the aisle you sat on, there were questions. What signs did the media, pollsters, and statisticians miss? How did the pattern of politics take such an abrupt turn? I became curious and started examining my experience and that of others. What changed in this election? What elements were so different that they threw off the usual predictors? How did we collectively miss what now seems so obvious?
In the short story, “The Destructors,” Graham Greene shows the devastation caused by holding on to the past. Statements like, “It was better when…” or, “If we could only return to a simpler time…”, are indicators of a false sense of security—a desire to escape the present day because of some sense of disillusionment or discomfort. The Destructors, a group of surly pre-teens led by Trevor, tore down Old Man Thomas’s house that had survived the WWII bombings in London when nothing else did. The house stood among the rubble and ruin as a symbol of what was and not what could be. As long as it stood, the rest of society, broken and devastated by the war, could not fully move forward.
“And destruction after all is a form of creation.” There is no going back, making “great again”, or returning to “like it used to be.” Those are status quo statements littered with fallacies and contradictions. The morning after the election I felt like Old Man Thomas at the end of the short story, staring at his house, now a pile of broken wood and buried memories. My ideas were built on a faulty foundation and I didn’t know it until they were a pile in front of me.
I started to read. I started to research. I had to know why I had been so confident in a Clinton victory when Trump took the win in the end. How did it happen, and how did I not see it? I was in my own echo chamber, filled with ideas that indicated that Clinton would win. I prided myself on being a moderate and a consumer of neutral news sources, but somehow, I missed something. Perhaps, I was caught up in the projections and I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening in the moment. There was an uprise to the perceived destruction caused by the Obama administration. Fear and cynicism had taken root in an America that I wasn’t in touch with and was blinded to by my own privilege. I was not present in the perspectives surrounding me, I was present only in my Old Man Thomas house, in my own echo chamber.
This process of being present outside of the echo chamber ensures that we won’t be trapped by polarized thought processes. We can’t just be Old Man Thomas, holding onto the house and the nostalgia that goes with it, and we can’t just be Trevor, pulling down an outdated past. Instead, we must be interested in understanding the need to hold onto and the need to destroy. If we search for the ability to relate versus trying to win or convince, then we build understanding. I knew people who did this, and we have people who are like this all over history as well. They are people who are vulnerable, empathetic, and willing. They embody the qualities of a reasonable communicator, or reasonable, and I wanted to be one.